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Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff
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Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

3.8 7
by Cathryn J. Prince

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January 1945: the outcome of World War II has been determined. The Third Reich is in free fall as the Russians close in from the east. Berlin plans an eleventh-hour exodus for the German civilians trapped in the Red Army’s way. More than 10,000 women, children, sick, and elderly pack aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a former cruise ship. Soon after the


January 1945: the outcome of World War II has been determined. The Third Reich is in free fall as the Russians close in from the east. Berlin plans an eleventh-hour exodus for the German civilians trapped in the Red Army’s way. More than 10,000 women, children, sick, and elderly pack aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a former cruise ship. Soon after the ship leaves port, three Soviet torpedoes strike it, inflicting catastrophic damage and throwing passengers into the frozen waters of the Baltic. More than 9,400 perished in the night—six times the number lost on the Titanic. Yet as the Cold War started no one wanted to acknowledge the sinking. Drawing on interviews with survivors, as well as the letters and diaries of those who perished, award-wining author Cathryn Prince reconstructs this forgotten moment in history. She weaves these personal narratives into a broader story, finally giving this WWII tragedy its rightful remembrance.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Death in the Baltic is the winner of the Military Writers Society of America 2013 Founder's Award

"Based on German and Russian records, as well as material gained from interviews with survivors, author Prince has written a gripping account of one of the least-known human disasters of World War II.”—Military History Magazine

“In describing the experiences of survivors, whom she has been adept in tracing, the journalist Cathryn Prince gives voices to ‘ordinary people who suffered during extraordinary times’ — and does so with scrupulous empathy.”—The Spectator

“A must-read for anyone wanting to examine the effects of the War on both sides.”—Warfare magazine

“The story of the worst maritime disaster in history…Prince has scoured the planet for survivors, treating their harrowing stories with gentle empathy, from the first sickening bolts of the torpedoes to the chaos and terror of the ship’s swift sinking as passengers fell into the freezing water, clambered for lifeboats and watched loved ones disappear in the tumult… An engaging study of a shocking tragedy.”—Kirkus Reviews

“If you think that the sinking of the Titanic was the worst maritime disaster ever, then you're wrong….Amazing and harrowing story, well written and documented.”—Jean-Paul Adriaansen, Water Street Bookstore

“The sinking of the cruise liner that was once the pride of Hitler’s Strength Through Joy program has long been overlooked by maritime historians.  Yet when the Wilhelm Gustloff disappeared beneath the freezing waters of the Baltic in January of 1945, she took with her more than six times the number of people lost on the Titanic. Through careful research and interviews with the few remaining survivors. Cathryn J. Prince vividly recreates the chaos and terror of this epic maritime disaster.”—Hugh Brewster, author of Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers And Their World

Death in the Baltic is the engrossing story of a tragedy that should never have been forgotten. With the grace of a writer who truly feels the loss of thousands in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea, Cathryn J. Prince has preserved their memory and improved our sense of history.”—Gregory A. Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500

“Cathryn Prince reaches into the dark corners of history, and draws attention to this unreported tragedy through the experiences of the people who lived it.”—Stacy Perman, author of A Grand Complication

“With Death in the Baltic author Cathryn J. Prince recounts an important but little known aspect of World War II. Rich in detail, drama, and tragedy, Prince's gripping narrative skillfully interweaves the traumatic events of the final weeks of the war with moving stories of survivors of a maritime disaster which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic.”—Dwight Jon Zimmerman, award-winning author of Uncommon Valor

"Death in the Baltic tells a gripping, invaluable story. Out of a desire for vengeance and recognition, one Soviet submarine commander caused the deaths of thousands of refugees, deaths that the victors of World War II chose to ignore. Cathryn Prince breaks the silence around the devastation many German civilians suffered at the end of the war.  Parting the curtain on the “collateral damage” the Allied Forces accepted as a necessary strategy for defeating Hitler, Death in the Baltic reveals that war's trauma spares no one.”—Leila Levinson, award-winning author of Gated Grief

“The story of the sinking of the Willhelm Gustloff is still unkown to a majority of non-Germans…It is certainly a grimly fascinating story, not least because of the wealth of human interest that it contains…Cathryn Prince tells the story of the Gustloff briskly and engagingly…making good use of the eyewitness accounts of the survivors.”—History Today

Kirkus Reviews
The story of the worst maritime disaster in history--and it wasn't the Titanic. Former Christian Science Monitor reporter Prince (A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science, 2010, etc.) pursues the little-known sinking of the German cruise liner Wilhelm Gustloff off the Polish coast in 1945 by Soviet torpedoes, to the incredible loss of some 9,000 lives, mostly refugees from East Prussia. Fleeing the Soviet Red Army advance on the Baltic coastline in late January, the German refugees were crammed aboard a converted pleasure cruiser as part of Adm. Karl Donitz's operation to help save military personnel and civilians from the Soviet onslaught. However, the effort came late: The Nazis forbade inhabitants of the eastern provinces to vacate before 1945, and soon, escaping by land would be impossible and by sea, frequently catastrophic. Thousands of refugees swarmed the port at Gotenhafen, waiting for days before boarding one of the available vessels, of which the Wilhelm Gustloff was the largest. Prince has scoured the planet for survivors, treating their harrowing stories with gentle empathy, from the first sickening bolts of the torpedoes to the chaos and terror of the ship's swift sinking as passengers fell into the freezing water, clambered for lifeboats and watched loved ones disappear in the tumult. Prince's detail extends to the experience of the troubled Soviet captain of the S-13 submarine, Alexander Marinesko, considered a hero for having "destroyed the symbol of Nazism itself." An engaging study of a shocking tragedy, in which the author takes pains to view all sides.

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Read an Excerpt

Death in the Baltic

The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

By Cathryn J. Prince

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2013 Cathryn Prince
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-34156-2



To the streams of refugees who first glimpsed the ship soaring several stories out of the water, the Wilhelm Gustloffappeared as a harbinger of hope.

The Russian Army was closing in on East Prussia's coastline, and by January 1945 most every German — from the highest ranking officer to the mother trying to protect her child — understood that they had lost the war. The Third Reich was in free fall, on the verge of social, political and economic ruin, but to say as much amounted to treason. Indeed, displaying a defeatist attitude earned junior military officers a swift execution. The teenagers who were drafted to be the face of Nazism in the Hitler Youth began to desert. If they were caught, they were forced to wear cardboard signs that read, "I am a deserter. I was a coward in the face of the enemy," before being thrown over balconies with ropes around their necks. On the eastern front the German Army investigated those soldiers suspected of self-inflicted wounds, trying to gather legal proof of defeatism. The Nazi leadership strained to convince the German people to ignore the shifting forces of war. Adolf Hitler broadcast daily orations rousing his people to fight to the last man. Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels insisted that Germany could still emerge victorious. Despite the threat of retribution from the police, thousands of Germans living in the eastern part of the country — referred to as East Prussia — chose to evacuate their home cities and towns. For days they arrived in a constant stream to the port of Gotenhafen, a major naval base situated in East Prussia on the Bay of Danzig. The province also shared a border with Lithuania to the north and east, and to the west lay the Free City of Danzig, and to the south and east, Poland. These refugees were part of a late-stage effort called Operation Hannibal that was to evacuate them from the advancing Soviet Red Army.

The Baltic seaside city of Gotenhafen (now Gdynia — see appendix with list of cities and current names) had come under Nazi control in 1939 after the Third Reich invaded Poland. The Germans renamed the seaside city after the Goths, an ancient German tribe. Almost immediately the military turned the seaport into a German naval base. They expanded the base in 1940, making it an extension of the Kiel shipyard, located across the Baltic Sea near the Danish border. Until the Soviet onslaught, the Gotenhafen harbor had been largely spared from the hostilities, which made it an attractive place for heavy cruisers and battleships to lay anchor.

Days before the first bedraggled evacuees arrived in Gotenhafen, the German authorities ordered Friedrich Petersen, the Wilhelm Gustloff's 63-year-old captain, to acquire fuel, prepare to take on refugees, and get ready to sail westward to the German port of Kiel. Before the war, the Wilhelm Gustloff had been a 25,000-ton passenger liner that took ordinary Germans on what was often their first vacation. During the war the Gustloff was first used as a hospital ship and then by the German navy as a U-boat training school. On that freezing January in 1945, it joined thousands of ships, large and small, in Operation Hannibal, an eleventh-hour exodus designed to transport primarily wounded military personnel and war materiel, and secondarily refugees from the eastern territories away from the fast approaching Red Army. The Gustloff wasn't the only ship crowding the key naval port, but at 684 feet long it was one of the largest. Along with the Gustloff sat a cohort of smaller liners, fishing boats, dinghies, and trawlers.

With the influx of refugees from across East Prussia, Gotenhafen's population swelled. Hundreds of thousands of people clogged the harbor, trailing their belongings. Everyone vied for boarding passes. Initially, the German authorities issued passes to wounded soldiers and sailors and to Nazi Party officials and their families only. Later, passes were given to women with children and families. The harbor thrummed with fear and anxiety. An air of lawlessness threatened the once orderly city. As a warning to others, German police shot looters and left their bodies lying on the streets or strung from lampposts.

There were people of every age; women wrapped in woolen shawls, men in fur coats, children perched on sleds. Many had been without adequate food and water for weeks. People searched for food, a ladleful of soup or a slice of bread, amid broken buildings and bomb craters. Rats ran rampant over mounds of garbage. People sought shelter in abandoned trolley cars and abandoned buildings. There were no resources to collect the piled-up corpses. Wounded soldiers arrived daily from the front lines. As the refugees abandoned their belongings, the port of Gotenhafen resembled a graveyard of overturned carts, upended sledges, discarded trunks and suitcases.

The thousands of evacuees waited sometimes days on end in these conditions. The Nazi leadership had finally allowed them to leave their homes and try to outrun the Red Army troops, which were, at that moment, surging toward the Baltic Coast.

In this crowd stood a little boy of ten gripping his mother's hand. Dressed in long underwear and ski pants, his hair was yellow. Once, Horst Woit lived in Elbing, East Prussia, a German enclave on a lagoon to the Baltic Sea. The town's iron works manufactured locomotives, U-boats, and armored vehicles for the German military. The Russian Army would soon lay waste to the land.

Woit was sad that he and his mother, Meta, had left their home. Home meant bread slathered with marmalade his mother had saved even during strict wartime rationing, a box of tin soldiers, and a mother who tucked him in nightly. Home comforted the young boy after his father left for the front just a year and half before. While war raged across much of Europe, his home remained largely peaceful. Then the Soviet tanks came too close and war thrust the Woits into a desperate flight for safety.

The Woits set out from their house intending to reach Schwerin, a city northwest of Berlin. That's where his mother's younger brother and his wife and son lived. The family had decided it would be the best and safest place to meet, as it was likely to fall under either British or American control. Once there, Meta would resolve whether she and her son would stay in Germany or emigrate.

Horst, an only child, was born on December 24, 1934, in the city of Insterburg. His grandparents lived in neighboring Gumbinnen and his aunt lived with her family in nearby Königsberg. His parents left Insterburg and moved to Elbing, 37 miles east of Danzig, before his second birthday. Today Horst treasures the few pictures that date from his childhood, collected after the war from relatives and friends. One of them shows Horst as a toddler, standing in front of a school. Later in the war the school was turned into a military hospital. In another black-and-white photo taken on his first day of school, a beaming six-year-old holds his first-day coronet of cookies, a family tradition.

The Woits didn't own a car. Taking the train to visit his grandparents, Heinrich and Johanna Wesse, in Gumbinnen remains one of Horst Woit's fondest childhood memories. He remembers his mother putting him on the train in Elbing with a sign hanging around his neck declaring his destination in case he forgot. After Meta took him to the train station and helped him board, Horst would settle into his seat, preferably next to a window but always under the watchful eye of the conductor. He loved watching the landscape roll past during the trip.

"By the time I got to there I had driven everybody nuts, asking all the time 'Are we there yet?'" Horst said. "My Grandpa used to pick me up at the train station; he was a great guy. I have a picture of him from the First World War on the Russian Front and one of Bismarck on parade."

Horst and his grandparents were close. Adventure filled his weekend visits. On at least two occasions his grandfather rushed the young boy to the hospital for serious scrapes and cuts. He still has the scars.

Then, in late 1944 the train trips stopped and became smaller in his mind, the same way the station in Elbing looked as the train pulled away. Soon "all one ever heard was 'the Russians are coming closer,'" Horst said. Then too, ever so quietly, worry trickled into the house. And just like that the smells and sights of lovely childhoods, of flowers, spring, birds, and bicycles disappeared.

"At the time the Second World War started I was five years old and I did not understand the real meaning; but as time went on I could not go to the school I started at — it became a hospital. Then my father was drafted into the army and my mother had to go to work. I spent a lot of time on my own, browsing the city," Woit said. After Horst's school became a hospital, he went to classes in another building. The adults in his life spoke little about the war. Looking back on that time, Horst said he believes his mother, his teachers, and his grandparents were trying to protect the children.

In January 1945 Leonilla "Nellie" Minkevics Zobs and her parents, Voldemars and Zelma, also chose to flee East Prussia before the Red Army could attack. Years after the war, the Minkevicses eventually moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, nearly half a world away from the town where she grew up. Nellie and her husband, Peter Zobs, became naturalized citizens. Of course, the then 24-year-old remembered the war's outbreak in 1939 and what happened in the weeks before the Soviet tanks penetrated the German lines during the winter of 1944–1945. A few years before she died, Nellie recalled the moment she left her home for the last time to walk to Gotenhafen where a boat waited to whisk her to safety. Together with her father and some family friends they walked to the pier where the vessel awaited. Like the thousands of other refugees boarding the Wilhelm Gustloff, she wore heavy winter boots and a woolen coat over her dress.

"On the roads of the Reich were not only troops hurrying toward new positions but hundreds of thousands of refugees — fleeing the frontier areas as the invaders approached, fleeing the cities as the bombers came over," she said, recounting her story decades after the event for a newspaper interview. "We thought we were so lucky to get on the Wilhelm. We were getting away."

Eighteen-year-old Eva Dorn Rothschild regarded the Wilhelm Gustloff with trepidation.

"It was big. It was easy to hit. I didn't feel safe, and I had a very bad feeling," she said nearly 70 years later, sitting on her plant-filled balcony in Ascona, Switzerland. In the distance, the Alps rise protectively around Lake Maggiore. Art and artifacts fill her apartment, and music from the 1930s wafts softly from inside, a reminder of her childhood when she used to go often to the theater.

Eva was a conscript in the German Navy Women's Auxiliary, and in January 1945 she had already been stationed in seaside Gotenhafen for more than a year. She served in various capacities, including in a spotlight battery and as a lookout for enemy aircraft. Wearing her dark blue uniform and cap, Eva boarded the Gustloff almost a full week before the other refugees. She carried a small suitcase aboard and little else. Reflecting on those years, she said she doesn't remember being scared of the Russians in the way the civilians were; her duties didn't leave much time to think.

Born in 1926, Eva grew up in Haale (Saale), Germany, about 24 miles from Leipzig, one of Europe's principal centers for music and art. She once dreamed of singing opera, not a far-fetched dream since her parents were musically gifted. Her mother, Paulina Aliza Dorn, was a classically trained opera singer; her father, Matius Brantmeyer, played the viola in a chamber ensemble. The pair, though never married, had four children — three boys and a girl. Eva was 11 years younger than her youngest brother. Hers was not an easy childhood. Her parents parted ways when she was quite young, leaving her to live with a mother more interested in shopping and luxuries than attending to Eva. Her mother had lost her job in the theater during the Depression and her father had remarried. Yet, though they were cash-strapped, Eva's mother still bought clothes and cosmetics on credit.

"She was always beautiful and always beautifully dressed. But she was also tempestuous," Eva said of her mother. During the early 1930s, Eva's mother rented out rooms in their flat to help pay off her debts and also sold their big iron stove. It wasn't enough. Paulina and her daughter had little to eat. Eva remembers carrying her tin pail to a soup kitchen to get food. Ironically, the soup kitchen volunteers cooked on the old stove that her mother had sold, so the workers usually gave Eva an extra serving or two.

"I was forced to be a grown-up very early in life," Eva said, sitting tall in her chair, gracefully holding a cup of hot coffee. Her ability to fend for herself shows itself in her elegant carriage. At 86, Eva is steel under grace.

Milda Bendrich boarded the Wilhelm Gustloff with her two-year-old daughter, Inge. Still tethered to the pier, the sides of the former hospital ship and U-boat training vessel rose like a sheer cliff out of the water.

Decades later, in a long, handwritten letter to Inge, Milda Bendrich explained how it was they left their home in Gotenhafen in the middle of winter and joined the mass pilgrimage to the docks. Bendrich made the trip with her daughter, her parents, Rosalie and Karl Felsch, as well as two elderly neighbors. "It was the last week in January 1945 and the coldest winter in two decades. The Soviet armies were about to engulf Gotenhafen and at long last, after weeks of being forbidden, the women, children, and the aged were given permission to leave their homes. Suddenly the Germans — old German nationals like us, Reich Germans who were posted to the front for war duties, Baltic Germans who were invited to come back to the Reich at Hitler's invitation ... as well as refugees from areas now occupied by the Russians — realized that everyone had to flee as best they could," wrote Bendrich. "Previously leaving meant death; a bullet in the brain. Now permission was granted even to relatives of [those in the] German armed forces. People were also allowed to freely discuss the events at hand."

Milda's friend knew a purser who was serving on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Milda hoped this contact would be enough for her to secure much-coveted passes for the ship. As one of the officers in charge of boarding papers and financial matters, the purser handed Bendrich two tickets. Emboldened, Bendrich asked if she might have four additional boarding passes. She wanted two for her parents and two for her elderly neighbors who had moved to Gotenhafen from Warsaw before the war started.

Initially the purser refused Milda's request, repeating his orders that he could only issue tickets to families with young children. As Bendrich's parents and elderly companions were retired and had no young children in their care, they didn't quite meet the Third Reich's requirements for receiving boarding passes. The purser explained that room had to be spared for wounded soldiers, U-boat crews, naval personnel, and the young women serving in the naval auxiliary. Next, women with young children were permitted, then families. Only after them would those traveling alone be considered for a place aboard the large ship. Bendrich pleaded. She simply couldn't abandon her parents and neighbors to the Soviet Army, and, if he denied her appeal, she just might refuse to board. For some reason unbeknown to Milda, her emotional appeal together with a brazen display of self-sacrifice and bravado convinced the young man.


Excerpted from Death in the Baltic by Cathryn J. Prince. Copyright © 2013 Cathryn Prince. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Cathryn J. Prince is the author of A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science, for which she won the Connecticut Press Club's 2011 Book Award for non-fiction. She is also the author of Burn the Town and Sack the Banks: Confederates Attack Vermont! and Shot from the Sky: American POWs in Switzerland. She worked as a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor in Switzerland and in New York, where she covered the United Nations. Prince covers the Connecticut State House for Patch.com.

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Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
BigbearBH More than 1 year ago
I have studied the available documentation about this tragic event for many years because my wife and 7 of her family members were on board when the Wilhelm Gustloff sank. When I read this book I was shocked at the number of incorrect historical facts and downright silly errors. For example; 1. On page 29 Prince tells us that Stutthoff Concentration Camp was liberated by the Russians in 1944. Then on page 82-84 Prince she tells us that in January 1945 the Russians were about to overrun Stutthoff. The camp guards forced 50,000 prisoners to march out of the camp. 5,000 were forced into the Baltic see where they were shot or drowned. The rest were force marched west. . Here is the Holocaust Encyclopaedia&rsquo;s version# of what happened: &ldquo;The evacuation of prisoners from the Stutthof camp system in northern Poland began in January 1945. When the final evacuation began, there were nearly 50,000 prisoners, the overwhelming majority of them Jews, in the Stutthof camp system. About 5,000 prisoners from Stutthof subcamps were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, forced into the water, and machine gunned. The rest of the prisoners were marched in the direction of Lauenburg in eastern Germany. They were cut off by advancing Soviet forces. The Germans forced the surviving prisoners back to Stutthof. Marching in severe winter conditions and treated brutally by SS guards, thousands died during the march&ldquo;. &ldquo;In late April 1945, the remaining prisoners were removed from Stutthof by sea, since Stutthof was completely encircled by Soviet forces. Again, hundreds of prisoners were forced into the sea and shot. Over 4,000 were sent by small boat to Germany, some to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, and some to camps along the Baltic coast. Many drowned along the way. Shortly before the German surrender, some prisoners were transferred to Malmo, Sweden, and released to the care of that neutral country. It has been estimated that over 25,000 prisoners, one in two, died during the evacuation from Stutthof and its subcamps.&rdquo; &ldquo;Soviet forces liberated Stutthof on May 9, 1945, and liberated about 100 prisoners who had managed to hide during the final evacuation of the camp.&rdquo; 2. On page 58 Prince states that &ldquo;The New York Times noted the ship&rsquo;s antiaircraft guns and questioned whether the Gustloff might eventually be deployed as an aircraft carrier&rdquo;. She cites the New York Times article dated May 1, 1938 titled &ldquo;Reich&rsquo;s Cruise Ships Held Potential Plane Carriers&rdquo;. This article does indeed talk about the Gustloff&rsquo;s potential to be converted into an aircraft carrier but it does not say anything about the Gustloff&rsquo;s antiaircraft guns. In January 1945, Lt. Cdr Zahn, the Gustloff&rsquo;s Military Transport Officer, was concerned about air attacks during the Gustloff&lsquo;s trip from Gotenhafen to Kiel.. He had the guns installed a few days before the Gustloff sailed. In fact Zahn had to bribe the Polish crane operators with 10 bottles of schnapps in order to get the guns on board the W.G. 3. On page 58 Prince refers to the Luftwaffe&rsquo;s Condor Legion. While the Condor Legion# name was given to it by Goering the Condor Legion (German: Legion Condor) was a unit composed of volunteers from the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and from the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) which served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. 4. On page 59 Prince states, &ldquo; The Gustloff was a floating hospital ship until 1940&rdquo;. In fact the Gustloff was a floating hospital ship from September 22, 1939 until November 20, 1940. In the late summer of 1940, the Gustloff was ordered to prepare for operations during the planned Invasion of England. The British Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe over the English Channel and the German plan to win air superiority over Southern Britain and the English Channel as a prerequisite to the attack caused Hitler to cancel the invasion of Britain. . On October 20th, 1940, the Gustloff sailed again to Oslo and took on 414 wounded for transport back to Swinem&uuml;nde. Shortly after this trip, the Gustloff ended its service as a Lazarettschiff . It was directed to Gotenhafen for serve as a barracks ship for the U-boot arm of the Kriegsmarine#. 5. On page 59 Prince states, &ldquo;Then, when the British blockaded the German coastline, the Gustloff housed U-boat crewmen undergoing training&hellip;.&rdquo;. A blockade of the German Coastline at this time never occurred. . Wikipedia defines a blockade as an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. Actually, from 1939&ndash;1940, the German U-boats attempted to blockade Great Britain and from 1939-1945 they attempted to blockade the North American coastline from delivering supplies to the Allies in Europe. 6. In the photo of Milda Benrich and baby Inga following page 112. the caption states,&rdquo; Inga aged two remains the youngest known survivor of the Wilhelm Gustloff&rdquo;. The youngest known survivor was Egbert W&ouml;rner, born 29 January 1945 on the W.G. 24 hours before the &quot;Wilhelm Gustloff&quot;#sinking#. Also, it is well documented, and Prince also wrote about the last survivor picked up by VP-1703 at the bottom of page 159. Prince refers to an infant boy adopted by Petty Officer Fick and his wife, but she does not mention his age. In their books Sch&ouml;n# and Dobson# estimate Peter Fick (adopted name) to be one year old at the time. 3. On P.117, last paragraph, Prince refers to Friedrich Petersen as the ship&rsquo;s military captain. He was the ship&rsquo;s civilian captain. 4. On P.118 Prince states that the ship had 22 lifeboats . While this was the official compliment of lifeboats4 the ship left port with only 12 of the original boats. It is well documented the Harbormaster requisitioned 10 of the boats for other uses during the four years the Gustloff was docked for use as a training centre. The Gustloff was able to replace the missing boats with 18 small, heavily oared craft normally used by U-boat cadets for elementary sea training. These boats were lashed to the sundeck along with a number of naval life rafts 5. P. 119-120 Prince wrote that 13 members of the Danzig burgermeister&rsquo;s (mayor&rsquo;s) group, including the country&rsquo;s Nazi Party leader, his wife, their 5 children, a maid and a parlor maid1took over the Adolph Hitler suite. Prince&rsquo;s footnote reference was Hasting;&lsquo;s book , Armageddon, p328. In my copy of , Armageddon there is no mention of the above on page 328. However, on page 285 Hastings states that the officials and their family are from Gdynia, which is the Polish name for Gotenhafen, (not Danzig, which was later named Gdansk). Also Prince refers to the country&rsquo;s Nazi Party leader. This would be a Gauleiter. Hastings says it was the Gotenhafen Kreisleiter, the local Nazi Party leader for Gotenhafen. Prussia had 2 Nazi Party leaders. Albert Forster was Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia and Erich Koch was Gauleiter for East Prussia. Neither were on the Gustloff. At war&rsquo;s Forster surrendered to the British who handed him to communist Poland. He was condemned to death by the Polish court for crimes against humanity in 1948 and hanged on February 28, 1952 in Mokot&oacute;w Prison in Warsaw. His wife, who had not heard from him since 1949, found out about his death in 1954. Koch was responsible for the evacuation of Germans from East Prussia. Prince talks about hia post war fate on Page 177. The Kreisleiter for Gotenhafen was Arthur Diethelm. I could not find any information on him post the Gustloff sinking indicating he was the Nazi Party Leader on board the Gustloff. 6. On p.123 Prince states that Lt. Cdr. Zahn is 35 Years old. On p.125 she says he&rsquo;s 33. His birth date is documented by Heinz Sch&ouml;n, the expert on the Gustloff sinking, as 29 Jul 10, making him 34 on January 30, 1945. 7. P.56, Prince says the 63 year old Captain Petersen took charge of the W.G when the first captain, Karl L&uuml;bbe died on board ship in April 1938. Then on p.6, p.125 and p.173 Prince continually refers to 63 year old Captain Petersen. when talking about him in reference to the Gustloff in January 1945. Petersen was captured by Allies early in the war. They released him on February 20, 1944 at age 66 on a promise not to sail a ship . He was 58 when he sailed on the Gustloff in 1938 and 67 when on the Gustloff in 1945. 8. P. 125 Prince states that Petersen and Zahn settled on a zigzag pattern for the course to Kiel, It is well documented that for a number of reasons the zigzag pattern was not feasible. In fact on p.174 Prince quotes [Rear] Admiral Englehardt as saying, &ldquo;at least one has to ask why the ship&rsquo;s leadership didn&rsquo;t go high speed and zigzag&rdquo;. 9. P. 130 Prince states that the crew divided up the hundreds of wounded on board and billeted them. There were only 162 wounded on board. 10. P. 134 Prince states, &ldquo;Captain Wilhelm Petersen ordered sailors to secure the lifeboats&hellip;..&rdquo;. Does she mean Captain Wilhelm Zahn or Captain Friedrich Petersen? 11. P. 142 The word cleaving should be clinging. 12. P.149 Prince says the S-13 lurked off the port side of the boat waiting to fire a 4th torpedo into the [Gustloff] or a rescue boat. On p. 131 she says the Russian sub fired all 4 torpedoes, but the one marked &ldquo;For Stalin&rdquo; jammed in the torpedo tube with its primer armed. [The Russians were busy trying to disarm it before it blew them up. This is well documented elsewhere.] 13. P. 149 Prince states that Horst Woit, 10 years old at the time, claims the Gustloff sunk at 10:30 PM, about 90 minutes after the 1st torpedo hit. I did not find this information in Woit&rsquo;s account on the Gustloff Museum website. Prince did not footnote this statement. In Vollrath&rsquo;s Sea Breeze&rsquo;s account he states the Gustloff sank at 22:10, one hour after the 1st torpedo hit at 21.09 Max Hastings says it was 21:04 in his book, Armageddon , p 286, and Sch&ouml;n says in his book, Die Gustloff Katastrphe, p307 the 1st torpedo hit at 21:16 (he looked at the clock just before it hit) and the ship sank at 22:00. That&rsquo;s only 44 minutes. Prince&rsquo;s statement of Woit&rsquo;s account says the Gustloff was afloat for more than half an hour longer than it was according to other testimony. 14. P.156 Prince states &ldquo;Shortly after midnight, nearly two hours after the S-13 fired its first torpedo at the Gustloff, the L&ouml;we moved along side Vollrath&rsquo;s lifeboat.&rdquo; If the 1st torpedo hit the Gustloff at between 21:04 and 21:16 , then my math says &ldquo;Shortly after midnight&rdquo; is Three hours after the 1st torpedo hit, not two hours. 15. P.158 Prince says their were 69 people in Hoist&rsquo;s life boat, and that some slipped into the water and drown; then on page 159 Prince says there were 70 people transferred from the lifeboat to the L&ouml;we. 16. P.164 Prince says that most casualties of the army, Luftwaffe and other refugees were not identified. While the Heer, Kriegsmarine (KM) and Marinehelferin are well documented I have never seen a reference to the Luftwaffe being on board. Normally military personnel moves would be documented and accounted for by their failure to report for duty after the sinking. Where did her info come from? My reference says that out of 918 Kriegsmarine 516 survived, out of 373 Marinehelferin 123 survived and out of 173 crew members 83 survived. Also, it was noted that out of 3,150 documented children on board only about 100 survived. It does not mention whether any of the undocumented children were included in the 100 count. 17. P 177 Prince says that [Erich] Koch escaped East Prussia in April 23, 1945, aboard an icebreaker from Pillau. His flight was interrupted when the British caught him on the island of Ruegen&hellip;&hellip;.Koch stood trial in 1958 in Poland&hellip;.. According to Wikepedia who quote Ian Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945, p. 319 Koch was captured by British forces in Hamburg in May 1949. 18. P.174 Prince calls the Captain of the T-36, Admiral Robert Hering. His actual rank was Kapit&auml;nleutnant, which is equivalent to a U.S. Navy Lieutenant. A far cry from an admiral. Furthermore, she says Admiral Hering of the T-36 exchanged letters with Admiral Englehardt for decades after the war. On page 49 Prince calls him Vice Admiral Conrad Engelhardt. On page 84 she refers to him Rear Admiral Conrad Engelhardt. On page 154 she calls him Vice Admiral Conrad Engelhardt. On page 172 she goes back to Rear Admiral Conrad Englehardt. On page 174 Prince calls him Admiral Conrad Engelhardt. Finally, on page 179 Prince refers to him by his correct name and rank, Rear Admiral Konrad Engelhardt. 19. P. 179 Prince stated that the German leadership imposed a silence on the survivors for months and years following the sinking. The war was over by early May 1945. Why would post Nazi Germany&rsquo;s leadership tell survivors to keep quiet about the sinking for years after. On Nov. 12, 1948 the German newspaper, &ldquo;Christ Und Welt&rdquo; No. 24 printed the Gustloff story titled, &ldquo;Die Katastrophe der Fl&uuml;chtlingsschiffe 1945&rdquo; (The Catastrophe of the Refugee Ship 1945). At the time my in-laws said that the sinking of the W.G. was kept quiet but they were never told by anyone not to speak about it. Besides this was a minor event compared to the death camps, the Nuremburg Trials and the cold war. 20. P.184 Prince says that the Tschinkurs received visas to immigrate to Regina, Ontario. Regina is a city in the province of Saskatchewan not in the province of Ontario. In Canada a province is analogous to a state in the U.S.A. 21. P. 188 Prince says that there were thousands of soldiers and sailors on board [the Gustloff], many of whom were destined to replenish German troops. The use of the word thousands of soldiers and sailors is an exaggeration in reference to the Gustloff sinking. There were 918 Kriegsmarine, 162 wounded, 373 women&rsquo;s auxiliaries (who were not regular military), about 1,500 military personnel if you count a few unnamed military staff supporting the wounded. 22. In Prince&rsquo;s Appendix she lists Heinz Sch&ouml;n&rsquo;s survivor tally by rescue boat incorrectly: She lists Minensuchboot (minesweeper) M 387/TS II as Minensuchboot M375ITS 8 twice, although she got the number of survivors right, then she omits Minensuchboot M 341 and its 37 survivors. So her count was only 1,215 survivors rather than Sch&ouml;n&rsquo;s 1,252 I believe the first book about the Gustloff sinking was SOS Schicksale Deutscher Schiffe, Katastrophe bei Nacht (in German) by Otto Mielke Nov. 23 1953. Unfortunately the good English books on this event such as A.V. Sellwood&lsquo;s, The Damned Don&rsquo;t Drown, 1973 and Dobson, Miller &amp; Payne, The Cruellest Night, 1979, are out of print. If anyone wants to learn about the Gustloff sinking they should Google the Wilhelm Gustloff Museum annexed save their money on the purchase of Prince&rsquo;s book. There are also documentaries on U Tube. .ee
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was an amazing read. The narrative was gripping and learning the back story of all the people most compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I disagree with a previous review. This book is neither concise nor readable. The information is disorganized and repetitive. I have read three times about the same family raising rabbits and chickens. In another two paragraph section, the timeline jumps from 1937 to 1938 and back. A man dies in the first paragraph and yet in the next is commanding a rescue operation. Most of the book has had nothing to do with the actual voyage or sinking. I have finished half of the book, and no one has boarded the boat. I get the impression the author had to digress and repeat to have enough pages to be published. Feels like an undergraduate history paper with a word count minimum. Book had great potential with an interesting subject, but fails in execution. Two stars instead of one because of author's detailed research.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Prince tells the tragic story of the Wilhelm Gustloff and its passengers in a concise, readable and vivid way. She did track down survivors and was able to coax painful memories out of them much to the benefit of the reader. A well balanced account that reads like a novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Insightful. Fascinating and meticulously researched. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written.Most informative, educational and historical